Giving Back to Our Communities
The need for pro bono legal services is vast, and we do whatever we can to fill it. Serving the underserved, representing the underrepresented, and aiding diverse organizations that impact our communities are deep commitments we make as a firm. Giving back is baked into our culture.
In virtually every area of the law—prisoner rights, racial justice and equality issues, LGBTQ+ support, health care access, disability benefits, immigration/asylum cases, veterans’ affairs, landlord-tenant disputes, and much more—we stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
We were proud to support some truly worthwhile projects and organizations in 2023.
These are just a few highlights of our pro bono efforts from the past year.
In the category of firms with 251-600 attorneys, among more than 200 firms surveyed. Law360's 2023 "Pro Bono Ranking"
In February, Mike Ferrell and Danny Simandl successfully tried to a jury in a court-appointed civil rights case on behalf of our client, the plaintiff.
The client is an inmate incarcerated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) since 1994. He initially filed the complaint pro se in 2015. In August 2016, the court granted his request for court-appointed legal counsel and assigned the case to Mike.
The case was brought under Section 1983, which permits incarcerated inmates to sue state government employees acting under color of law for civil rights violations. The client brought claims against several state employees at the IDOC’s maximum-security Stateville Correctional Center.
The case involved the defendants’ retaliation and failure to protect the client from known and obvious danger to his personal safety after he complained of misconduct by a prison guard assigned to the protective custody unit where he was being held. The client asserted that the defendants’ actions violated his First Amendment right to free speech, as well as his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and that the defendants committed the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The trial took place over seven days in the Northern District of Illinois before Judge Steven Seeger.
At the conclusion of the trial, the 10-person jury deliberated for two and a half days before returning unanimous verdicts of liability against five out of the six defendants and awarding the client a total of $2.95 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
To our knowledge, if upheld, it will be the largest verdict of its type in Illinois.
Successful Civil Rights Trial for Incarcerated Client
Attorney Elizabeth Houghton LaGreca began partnering with Immigration Equality in 2018 to assist her client, a Haitian LGBTQ male, in seeking asylum and obtaining work authorization in the United States. The client first came to the United States in June 2013 and had already been waiting five years for asylum status, as his deportation hearing had been repeatedly delayed and he had experienced turnover with pro bono counsel.
In April 2019, shortly before the client's hearing, the immigration judge assigned to his case took a sudden administrative leave and rescheduled the hearing for nearly four years later, to take place on February 10, 2023. During that time, with assistance from Epstein Becker Green attorney Catherine Kang, Elizabeth and Immigration Equality sought to secure the client’s presence in the United States by applying for Temporary Protected Status as a Haitian national and obtaining work authorization for him every two years.
Finally, in February 2023, Elizabeth and Immigration Equality appeared at a deportation hearing before the immigration judge, in which they had to defend the client against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s efforts to remove him due to his illegal entry into the country. They successfully established that the client qualified for asylum status due to his protected social group, past persecution in Haiti, and well-founded fear of persecution should he be forced to return to Haiti. The judge granted the asylum application at the close of the hearing, and the client was incredibly emotional, as he had waited nearly 10 years for that life-changing decision. For Elizabeth, it has been five years of extremely rewarding work to partner with Immigration Equality and to assist this particular client.
Immigration Equality Case Gets Rewarding Outcome in 2023
Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program
In March, Epstein Becker Green’s New York office once again hosted the Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program, in which attorneys work with high school students from communities that are often underrepresented in the legal profession to give the students hands-on experience of what it’s like to practice law. This year, Epstein Becker Green partnered with Vanguard High School.
The firm will continue its partnership with Street Law and plans to host a Street Law Legal Diversity Pipeline Program in New York in the spring of 2024 and in Washington, DC, in the fall of 2024.
“There are many times that we are called upon to compromise and balance a variety of things. Having participated in this program, meeting those students, Kent and Jessica, and feeling all that went with it, Friday wasn’t one of those times—it was uncompromised and uncompromisingly good.”
- Jim Flynn, Managing Director and Member of the Firm
Epstein Becker Green’s Future Lawyers Program Featuring the Gold Star Teen Adventures Program
In March 2023, Epstein Becker Green hosted a Future Lawyers Program in its Washington, DC, office with participants from Gold Star Teen Adventures (GSTA). GSTA provides educational and recreational events for the children of deceased servicemembers. The program brought six students to the office to meet with attorneys and staff from throughout the firm. The students also enjoyed a dinner cruise and, the following morning, a tour of Washington, DC.
During lunch, we were honored to have Colonel Kent Solheim, Founder and Program Development Lead of GSTA, share his story and experience with those who were in the DC office that day. Col. Solheim is a U.S. Army Green Beret with over 26 years of service. He is also a Purple Heart recipient, having lost his right leg to battlefield injuries. Col. Solheim’s story is a testament to the power of hope. We encourage you to read it here.